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Status Quo - Chapter 40

Written by: Paullell

 Alina’s tears come in fits and starts as Lana speaks. She’s having trouble keeping herself under control. Finally she nods and confirms, “Yes, they can do the same to you, if you give them a chance. Xavier is a bastard, but he is an honorable one. If you get an opportunity to work a deal with him, he will honor it. And he said he wouldn’t just kill Daray outright, if she chooses to stop working for him. But he can do it. He showed me the specs for APRIL’s hardware. There is a control chip in Daray’s head, woven into the gap between the hemispheres of her brain. That chip allows APRIL’s program to live in the soft tissues of her brain. No computer hardware is fast enough to handle her program, so they devised a way for her to run on the human brain. A small cadre of nanites rebuilds the control chip if it is damaged, but Daray’s regeneration handles the organic parts, healing them both. Embedded in the chip is a sub-space receiver, and a capacitor that is charged from the same tissues that allow her to fire those blasts for her arms. A signal from Xavier can discharge the capacitor, frying her brain and head, and APRIL can’t even see those systems because they are on the control chip, not in her program.”

 

She stands up and paces the gazebo, running her fingers through her hair as she talks. “I did a lot of research after the deal was struck, to find out if the system could work as he described it, and i there was any way to defeat it. I even managed to talk to the guy who built the control chip. It’s all true Lana, he confirmed it. The only way to disable the system would be to reprogram the nanites to not build the capacitor, then damage the control chip, which means doing severe damage to Daray’s head and brain. And I don’t know if she told you this, but there is always a chance that her regeneration can’t fix catastrophic damage. Every time she dies, the odds tilt against her coming back again. She’s one of the most advanced genetic rebuilds ever attempted before, but a Lazarus gland can only be used so many times before it fails.”

 

She kneels down in front of Lana again, taking her hands in her own and squeezing them. “The best thing you have going for you now is that Xavier doesn’t know about you. When they found out Daray had been permanently bonded with the skinsuit, they turned her loose from her contract, signed over the deed to the penthouse in Tranquility and paid her ten years salary, free and clear. She still works for him because she thinks he freed her from prison. She thinks she owes him something. He never even told her it was him that did it. she just assumed it was him and started picking up jobs again. You can change that. You can convince her to change her life.”

 

Her green eyes lock imploringly on Lana’s, “I know she feels guilt over me, and what happened that night. I can’t stop you from telling her. You know her better than I do at this point, but I can’t imagine anything good would come of it. Not telling he was APRIL’s idea, just so you know. She seems to think she has a pretty good bead on human psychology, and Daray’s as well. But here’s what I know for sure. They implanted a very weak sub-space transmitter in my skull. If I get within fifty feet of her, for more than sixty seconds, then that capacitor will discharge and burn out the both of them, Lazarus gland and all.”

 

Standing up again, she wipes her tears away once more, taking a step back to give Lana her space. “Look, I have some stuff I have to get back to. I’m sorry to unload all of this on you and run, but… I just can’t take a chance on meeting up with her. Just promise me, whatever you decide to do. Don’t let her do anything crazy. She’s not as indestructible as she thinks. And don’t you ever break her heart, OK?”

 

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Lana listens seriously to Alina's explanations, nodding at times to let her know she understands and to encourage her to continue.  She makes a mental note to research Xavier since he seems to be the one with his finger poised over the problem button, but that problem is for another day.   She stands up with Alina and reaches out to squeezes her shoulder comfortingly with her uninjured hand.  "I won’t promise never to tell her, you may not be aware, but April is actually not the best judge of human reactions. Oh she does statistics fine, but human reactions constantly seem to surprise her.  It might be nice for you two to be able to talk again some day.  As for me, I’ll do my best.  Breaking her heart would be like cutting my own out.  I can't imagine ever doing that to either of us.  I’ll take care of her to the best of my ability, Alina.  I promise.”  

 

Lana tries to give her a reassuring smile and then lets go, letting her make her escape if she wants to.

 

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Alina nods her head at Lana’s words, suddenly diving in close and sweeping her up in a tight embrace for a moment before backing up again, a sappy smile on her face and eyes still clouded with tears. “I know you will. I can see it all over you like a kid in a toy store. I’m glad she found someone so amazing. I know you two are going to be just fine.”

 

She wipes the tears away one list time, her face brightening. I would love to talk to her again one day, and it seems as if you may be the person to make that happen. Here’s my information.” She hand’s over a data crystal, pressing it firmly into Lana’s palm, and capturing her hand briefly between her own, a simple gesture of thanks. “Please keep it safe. It takes a lot of work to stay off the grid around here. Before I go, can I get you anything? Are you armed?” She produces a tiny little derringer with four barrels from somewhere on her person, almost as if she’d pulled it out of thin air, and holds it in her open palm so Lana can take it if she wants.

 

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Lana returns the hug and smiles at her.  “Thank you for being so generous, I’m not certain I could be if the situations were reversed.  I don’t usually let my heart rule my mind so I find myself in uncharted territory here.” She takes the data crystal easily but she looks at the proffered gun with distaste.  “No, thank you… but no.  I couldn’t hurt another person.  I just couldn’t do it.  I’ll have to hope I can just keep ahead of my enemies.  If you have a credit or two you could loan me to take a cab to the rendezvous point that would be very helpful, but if you don’t I understand and good luck to you Alina.” 

 

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Alina’s derringer disappears again, as fluidly as it had appeared, and she produces a small bar of platinum in her other hand, passing it over to Lana. “You can take this, but most of the public transports in Hector are automated, so it won’t be of much use to you there. Maybe you can catch a ride from someone along the way somewhere. I’d take you myself, but it’s probably best if I don’t know where you guys are at.”

 

She nods toward Lana and smiles again, “I know I’ll find someone for me one day. Maybe I’ll go talk to Niko and see if we can work things out. I’ve learned so much since then… Thank yo Lana, please be safe out there.”

 

She curtsies as she finishes speaking, then backs out of the gazebo, turning around on the stair and then moves from the small clearing and disappears behind one of the rows of hydroponic racks without looking back.

 

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Lana curtsies back and the gesture looks fluid and elegant when she does it, as thought it is a gesture she is long familiar with.  She watches her walk away for another minute before she does anything.  Then she takes stock of what she has.  She takes the injection that Alina gave her and shoves it into her bodysuit until it settles at her side against her rib cage.  She can see the bump under the material but perhaps it is just because she is so critical of her own form.  The platinum bar she sticks into a pocket and she checks to make certain her stunner is still in its holder.  After another calming moment she stands up and makes her way out of the gazebo and back into the cacophony of birdsongs that surrounded the enclosure.  She keeps walking in the opposite direction from Alina and begins to tour the garden as she has always intended.  She tries to pretend she hasn’t a care in the world but she feels the smile straining on her face as she nods to the other tourists that she occasionally encounters.

 

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The birds in the garden regularly wing their way though the open air, scoping up insects as they go and singing merrily. She even spies a few rabbits in some of the other open areas where there is grass, carefully roped off to keep people form walking on it. One reason for her melancholy might be the return of that ever-present feeling of being watched, although there is no-longer that dull ache in her head caused by the psionic nullifier that protected the gazebo.

 

The sky between the tops of the hydroponic racks and the dome is an open expanse so large, that it has a faint blue tint to it from the air and moisture filtering the sun light. The other tourists seem to be having a wonderful time, pointing at flowers and laughing as bees and birds buzz them. A garden of this size is truly a once-in-a-lifetime sight for most people these days, and it is truly large enough, and has enough variety that it would be easy to let an entire day slip by without even realizing it, and some of the areas of the garden bear signs that purport to have an equally-impressive variety of night-blooming flowers, indicating that the garden does not close when the sun goes down.

 

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Lana tries to enjoy the beautiful surroundings but the itch between her shoulder blades becomes an ache; an ever-present knot of worry that won’t go away no mater how she stretches or how far she walks. Finally she settles herself on the main path.  There is a bench not too far from the entrance with a picturesque little scene in front of her where she can watch the birds playing in a bath.  It seems to be a good spot because there is a constant flow of pedestrian traffic around her.  She hopes that their presence will either calm her paranoia, or if it is not paranoia the presence of other people will deter whomever is watching her.

 

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“Can’t stay in here forever, you little gene-filth bitch.” An all too-familiar man’s voice rumbles from behind her perch on the bench. The voice is unmistakably that of Bob Killgore, and is even followed by a bit of cybernetic servo noise, but when she turns around, there is no one there. A slight twinge in her brain accompanies the noise, similar to what she felt when she entered the gazebo

 

“You don’t get it, do you girl? You can’t get rid of me. Not with some chap little stunt like that. And with your dog off her leash and running the neighborhood, you don’t have anyone here to protect you.”

 

Turning around again to face the sound of Bob’s voice, Lana sees all of the people that had been moving up and down the main walk-way, all standing stock-still, and staring at her with blank eyes.

 

“There’s nowhere you can go that I can’t find you. The harder you make this, the more I’m going to hurt you. And hurt you. And hurt you.”

 

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At the sound of his voice Lana breaks out in a cold sweat and her stomach clenches with fear.  Her first instinct is to run but without being able to see him she doesn’t even know which way to go.  She rallies herself and forces her body to stay where it is.  She looks at the people around her curiously, not entirely certain why they are standing still and all staring at her.  She can only assume it is some kind of psychic ability that is causing this behavior due to the twitchy feeling in her own brain. She suppresses a shiver when he starts to repeat himself and she realizes that at some point he has gone completely crazy.

 

“You know, I’ve never quite understood that.  There is nothing dog like about her.  I’m the one with the tail so calling me a bitch is actually somewhat accurate.  As for there being nowhere that you can’t find me; that may be true, but finding and taking are two different things.  She knows where I am and will come looking for me again.  Just like you there is no place she can’t find eventually.  Why are you even still doing this?  How can I possibly be worth the aggravation?”

 

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“You won’t get away.” The entire crowd, perhaps fifteen people, takes a step toward her.

 

“I’ll have you. Add you to my collection. And that little whore won’t be able to stop me this time.” The crowd takes another step toward Lana, a couple of them are now within a few feet of her.

 

“Soon enough… You’ll come to me willingly. But first you’ll have to suffer.” Again, the crowd takes a step closer to her, now a few of them are close enough to reach out and grab her.

 

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The word ‘collection’ strikes a chord with her, this isn’t Bob.  Thank god, she seriously hopes that he is actually dead.  On the other hand, if this is Turin like Alina had suspected, he seems even crazier than the sergeant had been.  “Whore, again with the poorly chosen disparagements. She’s never sold her body for money; that is a better description for me… Collection? I don’t understand… wait, you aren’t Sergeant Kilgor are you?  Who are you and why do I have to suffer?” Lana holds herself still and doesn't flinch away from the reaching hands.  If they pull her out of here in a mob like this some member of security is bound to notice.  Once they grab ahold of her she goes with the hands docily for now wile she thinks of the best course of action.

 

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The voice stops, as abruptly as it started. The buzzing in Lana’s head stops, and the entire crowd seems to rouse, as if from a dream. They stand and look confused for a moment, blinking in the waning sunlight. The few of them who were within reach of Lana, startle themselves with their proximity to the stranger and back off, but nobody says anything as they begin to wander off in confusion, trying to get back to their day.

 

At this point, even the foreboding sense of being constantly watched disappears from Lana’s senses, leaving her mind unburdened by the constant pressure for the first time since leaving Daray’s company earlier.

 

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Lana can’t help but relax from the relief of pressure.  She had been completely unaware that the feeling of being watched was a mental pressure and not a physical one.  She smiles with the relief of tension although she has no idea what she said or did that surprised her attacker so much that he cut off his attack. 

 

 She smiles reassuringly at the other people, trying to smooth over any uneasiness with good cheer.  Not for the first time, Lana wishes she had the ability to manipulate other peoples emotions.  Being able to read them is good, being able to effect them would be even better.  She stays where she is for another ten minuets, waiting for the presence to come back.  When it does not she hops up and begins to search for a restaurant or a souvenir shop.  It has been a while since she ate and her stomach is complaining.  Most tourist spots should have something to sell to make extra revenue and it should be a good spot to break down the platinum into smaller change.

 

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People seem to respond reasonably to Lana’s attempts to smooth things over, and before long she is on her own again, wandering the garden. By the time she starts to feel her hunger coming on, she is within a few minutes walk of the guest center in the middle of the dome. 

 

The restaurant serves a wide variety of professionally prepared, and amazing food. Lana has to ask around to a few people before she finds a server willing to take the platinum as payment for food, but once she does so, she gets the five-star treatment, including an offer of a ride to anywhere in Hector she might want to go from here, although there is never any offer of any form of change for her money, just whatever she wants to eat and drink, for as long as she wants to stay, and a ride. 

 

When pressed, the server kneels down next to her and whispers conspiratorially, “you know, this is black market money right? There isn’t anything smaller to break it down into, and either one of us could get thrown in prison just for having it. Please don’t make a scene…” She opens her hands wide to indicate she has no intention of causing problems, looking imploringly into Lana’s eyes.

 

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Lana blushes at her gaff.  “Oh, no!  I didn’t realize… of course.  No this is perfect then, the ride home is the most important thing.  She sighs and looks over the menu, trying to decide what she would like. Finally she hand s the menu back.  “Oh, just surprise me, anything with fresh fruit and vegetables.  And thank you for being understanding.”  She smiles at the waitress letting her know that she really does appreciate the helpfulness.  She looks around for the time, wondering how much more she needs to waste before she can go back to Daray.

 

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The woman returns a few minutes later with a platter filled with slices of fruit and vegetables in every conceivable shape and size. There are colors and flavors on the plate that many people never see in their entire lives, since most of them live off simple tubers, yeasts, and protein, all grown in aeroponic and hydroponic farms. She also brings out an assortment of tiny glasses containing various fruit juices and cocktails, along with some assorted cheeses and a few very flavorful sausages.

 

Between her conversation with Alina, and her time wandering the garden, Lana has burned up about 8 hours of time, and another ninety minutes at dinner sees the wan sunlight all but gone from the sky. It’s about then that the waitress comes by again and slips into the seat next to Lana where she offers a huge sigh that can only be born from a long day on one’s feet.

 

“Listen, I’m sorry about earlier, I kind of guessed you weren’t from around here, but I had no idea you were from The Dregs. I hope you’re enjoying our little town here. So where can I drop you off?” She’s obviously a happy person, despite her long-day-of-work sigh, which is evidenced by the fact that she barely breathes while stringing together her wash of friendly greetings.

 

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Lana savors the delicious flavors of the meal and entertains herself while she wastes time with imagining the histories of the people who come and go around her.  She grins at the friendly waitress when she plops down into the seat next to her.  A hint of a blush appears in her cheeks at the waitress’ assumption.  “You don’t have anything to apologize for! I appreciate the help.  I’m not from the Dregs actually.  I had a very sheltered life until recently and the companions that I keep meeting seem to use these as currency all the time, I hadn’t realized they were not official money.”  Lana looks at her with her ability working just to make certain that her inner emotions match her outward emotions before she gives her the address that Daray had told her.  She knows it is early but she is feeling much safer since the feeling of being observed has faded and she is so tired all she wants to do is get some sleep.

 

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“Oh! I’m sorry!” She chirps, flushing with embarrassment. “I just assumed… Well, I guess that isn’t important.” She smiles happily, and her aura and emotions seem to reflect that she has no ill-intentions, but may be a bit overly-curious as to Lana’s story, especially once she hears that she’s not from The Dregs.

 

“Well, I’m off for the day, so we can go get my transport and head out whenever you like. I feel a little bad taking all that money from you and not giving you the royal treatment, but there just isn’t anything smaller and,” she leans in close again, lowering her voice to a whisper, “most people who use that kind of currency don’t want to be using their credit accounts…”

 

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Lana watches the orange tinge of embarrassment fade to a yellow for curiosity and is reassured by the perfectly normal reactions.  “I appreciate the ride and I don’t want to be an imposition, we can leave now.”  Lana writes the address down on a piece of paper and hands it to the woman.  “This is where I need to go. Thank you again.  I almost forgot! My name is Lana.”  She offers a friendly smile and her hand after she takes the paper.  She considers satisfying her curiosity but with the way things have been going lately, the less she knows the safer the other woman will be.

 

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“Oh it’s no imposition! I need to go into the city for some supplies anyway. My name is Cheylynne!” She’s beaming with happiness as she takes the address and stands up. “It’s very nice to meet you Lana. Although I hope you have some other means of getting around, and getting food. Most people around here are pretty above board, if you know what I mean.”

 

She leads the way out of the visitor center and through the garden to another small clearing, this one with a recessed ramp that descends twenty-five or thirty feet under ground before turning and coming to a door. She keys it open with a swipe of the ID chip in her hand, then leads Lana into an underground parking lot.

 

Her vehicle is nothing fancy, a little two-seater with a retractable roof that is already down. She hops in lightly and smiles, waiting for Lana to join her. “Is there anywhere else you’d like to go before I take you here?” She holds up the slip with the address on it and grins widely, clearly enjoying the company.

 

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Lana sands up and follows Cheylynne.  “Oh, I usually use credits too.  I’m afraid I ran afoul of a hacker and I’m still trying to get my accounts back in order.  I’m trying not to let it ruin my trip here though.  Well I don’t have anywhere that I need to be immediately.  If you want to run your errands first, you could give me an impromptu tour of the city while we go.  I don’t want to miss anything during my stay and I’ve heard the best way to get all the best spots is by asking a local.”  Lana figures this is a good way to burn a little bit more time before going back to the empty quarters, knowing that Daray won’t be there until tomorrow anyways.  She doesn’t consider herself to be lying.  Her records were ruined by a hacker and she is for all intents and purposes a tourist while the time allows for it.  It is easy to feel relaxed around someone as pleasant as Cheylynne.

 

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“If you don’t mind hanging out with me for a while. I just need to make a couple of stops.” She beams.

 

It takes about two hours, as her first stop is a salon to have her hair cut and styled. She offers to cover some pampering for Lana as well, repeating that the money is certainly enough to cover a little salon time. Then, with a quirky grin at Lana, she has a few light blue streaks put in to her blonde locks, then happily leads the way to a grocery store where she buys groceries for a week, for one, and packs them in the trunk with Lana’s help before hopping in the vehicle again and proclaiming that was all she had to do.

 

“Unless you want to go to ca club or something? I don’t know if you are meeting anyone or whatever…” Pointing at the chronometer on the dash board, Lana is alerted that the time is now going on ten in the evening, , more than ten hours past the bombing, as it was reported on the news.

 

She waits for Lana to let her know what she’s thinking, before heading out again.


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